Friday, August 29, 2008

Smells and bells 3: community

On p. 31 of Mark Galli's book Beyond Smells and Bells:
The liturgy leads us first to the Triune God. In the beginning was God, and that means in the beginning was relationship - between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We do not worship a solitary "monogod," sufficient unto himself, but one who has existed from eternity in self-giving love among the members of the Trinity.

If God-as-Trinity is the core reality of the universe, that means that the core of reality is community.

This is not easy for someone like me to accept. I have been suckled since infancy on the metaphor of the social contract: we are individuals first who then band together when it serves our self-interest. The community exists to help me self-actualize. I take it or leave it depending on whether it helps me do that. So I never really commit to community (yeah, you and everybody else).

My lifelong participation in the church seems to belie that, but I've learned the fine art of participating without being fully present, of doing a flurry of work for the church but hiding my deeper self from others. I never get deeply involved in the lives of others, because, well, that just complicates my life. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living community.

I'd like to think that I can manage life on my own, with just a 'little' help from my friends - as long as I keep my emotional distance. My primary identity, I like to imagine, is wrapped up in my gifts and talents and unique characteristics - as if the essence of my being is the "I," making the "we" of community a nice add-on, but not necessary. But the truth is that the core of my identity lies not in my individuality. Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau notwithstanding, it is not "I think, therefore I am." It is not, like Sheila, "I believe, therefore I am." The deeper truth is this: "God speaks, therefore we are."

The liturgy is a story we participate in. Part of that story is the story of community -- created, broken, and restored.

This story is both liberating (freeing us from the burden of the self) and utterly frightening (we have to step out of the self). But this is the God and the community that the liturgy wants us to meet -- and be transformed by.

P. 35-36:
This is tough to swallow. The church has always been a worrisome and dysfunctional place where community-destroying sins - gossip, anger, envy, pride, among others - are fruitful and multiply. We rightfully expect much of those who publicly claim allegiance to the kingdom of God, and we are rightfully resentful when the church instead looks like a failed state.

No wonder many disciples bitterly abandon the church, striking out on their own, hoping against hope that, maybe as individuals shorn of religion, they can scale spiritual heights. Granite peaks do not offer sweeping vistas, but they are lonely places. Saints like Francis of Assissi, Teresa of Avila, and Ignatius of Loyola, while knowing peak experiences, grounded themselves in the fellowship of prayer called the church. They knew that they could not ultimately love God whom they had not seen if they could not love those whom they could see.

The church is the community that together longs for healing, and is promised that it will receive what it longs for, not just as individuals but in union with others.

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